Copies of search warrants released Friday showed police seized dozens of journals and other materials, some documenting marriages and births, from a West Texas polygamist sect.
The list of documents seized also refers to a "cyanide poisoning document," but offers no other explanation.
The records include a list 80 pages long of items taken from the grounds of the Yearn for Zion Ranch in Eldorado owned by the breakaway Mormon sect known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Among the items seized were computer equipment, family photo albums, letters, school and medical records, including some that listed the name of the 16-year-old girl whose call prompted the weeklong raid. But her name was identical to that of several girls in the sect.
Authorities removed 416 children from the West Texas polygamist compound in the last week, in response to the teen's accusations that her 50-year-old husband beat and raped her.
The children, and 139 women who voluntarily left the compound near Eldorado, remain housed at two sites in San Angelo, about 40 miles from the ranch and 200 miles west of San Antonio.
Authorities defend raid
On Thursday, state and local law enforcement authorities defended their decision to leave the sect alone for four years after it moved in.
For four years, an informant fed Sheriff David Doran information about the polygamist.
But those milling about the 1,700-acre compound would scatter whenever he and a Texas Ranger visited, leaving them without the concrete evidence they needed to open a criminal investigation, Doran said.
“I have no regrets because we never received any outcry, a complaint. There was no evidence of illegal activity nor an offense in plain view,” he said. “You can always suspect something, but until you get something that puts you on that property, there’s not a whole lot you can do.”
A raid was finally triggered April 3, after a family violence shelter received a hushed phone call from a terrified 16-year-old girl saying her 50-year-old husband had beaten and raped her.
State troopers put into action the plan they had on the shelf to enter the compound, and 416 children, most of them girls, were swept into state custody on suspicions that they were being sexually and physically abused.
Doran said it was not until after the raid began that he learned that the sect was, in fact, marrying off underage girls at the compound and had a bed in its soaring limestone temple where the girls were required to immediately consummate their marriages. Also, investigators said a number of teenage girls there are pregnant.
Authorities in Texas suspected there would be trouble ever since members of the renegade Mormon splinter group bought the exotic game ranch in Eldorado in 2004 and began building the ranch.
Meanwhile, three mothers of 10 children taken from the ranch said authorities will not allow them to see or talk to their children. The women, who did not want their full names published, said they were away from the ranch when it was raided and returned as soon as they heard what happened.
'They need their mother'
Mrs. Johnson, 30, has three children ages 7 and under and said she fears they may be frightened by what has happened.
“They need their mother,” she told Utah’s Deseret Morning News for a story published Friday. “I am a good mother and I want to be with my children.”
Authorities in Texas suspected there would be trouble ever since members of the renegade Mormon splinter group — the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints — bought an exotic game ranch and began building.
Warren Jeffs, the sect’s prophet and spiritual leader at its longtime headquarters in the dusty, side-by-side towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., was charged in 2005 and 2006 with forcing underage girls into marriages. He was convicted in September in Utah of being an accomplice to rape and is serving up to life in prison.
Doran had made occasional visits to the compound — he even called to tell members of Jeffs’ capture in 2006 — but he said he saw nothing to warrant a criminal investigation.
“You can only press someone so far without having a criminal investigation going on,” he said, adding that members aren’t forthcoming when talking to outsiders.
Doran declined to say whether the informant, a former sect member, was in Texas, or Utah or Arizona.
Girl's identity still a mystery
Barry Caver, a Texas Ranger who sometimes went with Doran to the compound, said a general welfare check wouldn’t have produced much because they could talk to just three or four main people there.
Texas Attorney General Gregg Abbott said state authorities handled the case properly. "You cannot go in and bust in someone’s house if there’s not probable cause to do so,” Abbott said.
Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor who has written about polygamy, said even Jeffs’ conviction was not enough to barge in on the Eldorado sect.
“They would need a contemporary statement or evidence at trial that an individual at the (Texas) compound is practicing polygamy,” Turley said.
Officials still have not been able to identify the teen who made the call from the children being held at two sites in Texas.
The man alleged to be the 16-year-old’s husband, Dale Barlow, is a registered sex offender who pleaded no contest to having sex with a minor in Arizona.
“I do not know this girl that they keep asking about,” he told Utah’s Deseret Morning News on Wednesday. “And I have not been to Texas since I was a young man back in 1977.”